Having a daily routine can help reduce stress, improve focus and save your mental energy for tasks that really matter. In fact, even if we don’t deliberately set out to create one, most of us end up falling into a routine anyways—just not one that’s always healthy or conducive to our goals. If you’re ready to put together a routine for the first time, or want to redesign your existing one, you’ve come to the right place. Here are seven steps to follow to create an everyday routine:
Decide what your routine should include.
The first step to creating an everyday routine is to write down everything that you want it to include. Grab a piece of paper or open a document on your computer and jot down everything that you want to do in a day—both the things you’re already doing and the new activities you inspire to include. If you have trouble thinking of things on the spot, keep the document with you during a typical day and add ideas as they come to you. For example, while you’re making your morning coffee, you might realize that you’d like to do 10 minutes of journaling or meditation each day as well.
Follow your natural circadian rhythm, if you can.
Once you have a complete list of everything that you want your day to include, it’s time to start figuring out when to schedule everything. If you can, try to follow your circadian rhythm and schedule the most intensive tasks for when you have the most energy. For example, a lot of people swear by early morning workouts, but if you’re a night owl whose energy peaks after work, evening exercise might be a better fit for you. Be realistic about whether or not you can follow that schedule, though. If you have young kids who get up early in the morning, then you’ll need to align your routine closer to their schedule, even if you long to sleep in.
Schedule your day in blocks.
When deciding what to do when, it’s helpful to schedule your day into three blocks: morning, midday and evening. Your morning routine should include waking up and getting ready for work, while your midday might include running errands and your evening might include making dinner. Start by blocking off the activities that have to occur at certain times of day and then fill in the other things on your list as you can. If you feel your morning’s getting full, try to move as many activities as possible to the night before. You don’t have to wait for the morning-of to choose your outfit for the day or pack your lunch.
Figure out how to connect new activities to existing ones.
Building new habits can be hard, as can moving an existing habit to a new time. Identify all the new habits on your list and see if you can connect them to existing habits at the same time. For example, if you want to start journaling, maybe you could schedule 10 minutes to sit down and do that right after you pour your daily cup of coffee. Connecting these activities with soothing or rewarding ones is also a good idea. For example, if you want to do yoga for 15 minutes a day, you can light some scented candles and play soothing music to make the experience more enjoyable. Over time, the simple act of lighting the candle will tell your body and brain that it’s time to do yoga.
Accurately estimate how much time it takes.
When building out your schedule, it’s tempting to believe the best-case scenario and assume that it takes far less time for you to do something than it actually does. If you have trouble accurately estimating how long a task will take, time yourself doing common activities throughout the day (or a week, if you want averages). Don’t forget to include prep time as well. For example, you’ll need to change into exercise clothes before doing that 15-minute yoga flow, so that’s extra time you’ll need to account for.
Leave time for the unexpected.
Even if you plan your routine down to the minute, things are still going to go wrong occasionally. You’ll spill coffee on your shirt, or oversleep your alarm, or forget your laptop and have to double back for it. Don’t plan your routine out so rigidly that you don’t have the flexibility to cope with these mistakes as they arise. And don’t beat yourself up if you have to deviate from your routine one day in order to take care of it. You might have to miss your morning yoga flow to get the coffee stains out of your shirt, and that’s totally okay! The routine is there to provide structure and reduce stress, not create it.
Try out your new routine and adjust as needed.
Once you finally have your routine laid out, it’s time to take it for a spin. If the routine is difficult to adjust to for the first few days or weeks, keep at it and don’t worry. It can take a month or more to adapt to a new routine, especially if it’s very different from your old one. You might also find that a routine that looked perfect on paper isn’t working so well in real life. If that’s the case, feel free to adjust the routine or even make a new one altogether. The routine is there to work for you, not the other way around.
As you create an everyday routine, don’t forget to include small things that will boost your mood and motivation, such as lighting a coconut wax candle or going for a walk. Don’t give up on your routine before it becomes a habit, but don’t be afraid to change it to make it better, either.